The main characteristics of the US-American communication style can be summed up in a catchy motto: Hard on facts, soft on people. US-Americans communicate clearly and directly on the matter but are always polite and friendly to the person. That’s why they attempt to establish a pleasant rapport before business topics are addressed. They usually create this rapport with entertaining small talk. In contrast to more relationship-oriented cultures around the world, however, it is possible for US-Americans to talk purely about business matters without having to establish a long-term personal relationship with the international business partner first.
At an early age, US-Americans learn to approach others and to be open, friendly and helpful. Accordingly, their overall attitude towards life is positive! Don’t consider this American openness to be the beginning of a friendship. On the other hand, don’t label the typical US-American behaviour as pure superficiality either. US-Americans are simply striving for a positive atmosphere and achieve this by talking in a friendly and very open way. However, there is a certain sensitivity regarding any interference in one’s own affairs as well. Privacy and individuality are considered sacred in the United States.
With US-American business partners, you should spend some time on the warm-up. Choose easy-going small talk topics, such as the weather, your arrival, the beautiful scenery, sports, hobbies, the food or the latest movies and coming soon models of electronic gadgets. No-Gos are all topics where one could easily disagree, such as religion or politics. Also, don’t choose any personal topics, because despite their open nature US-Americans won’t see you as a close friend to share private matters with!
After this warm-up phase, your US business partners will signal that they would like to talk about business now. They might say something like: “Let’s get down to business.“
US-Americans usually don’t have time for long explanations or unnecessary details. Therefore follow the motto: K.I.S.S. – “Keep it short and simple“ or “Keep it short and straight“. Refrain from communicating too many details, instead limit yourself to the information you really need to make your content understandable. Come to the heart of the matter as soon as possible. The motto is: Time is money!
Direct communication with some exceptions
In general, US-Americans say pretty clearly what they think, and usually, mean what they say, so you don’t have to read between the lines and also shouldn’t need to drop hints. The verbal statements of your US-American partners are clearly understandable and they expect the same from you.
Be polite and friendly, and don’t interrupt anyone, but don’t be silent for too long either as US-Americans will tend to continue talking themselves. Silence could even be misinterpreted as not being interested.
Rejection without using a direct No
Clear statements are appreciated, however, US-Americans won’t use the word “no” a lot. A direct “no” could hurt the rapport and that is to be avoided.
For example, if a US-American is likely to reject a proposal, he or she will only use some phrases that express uncertainty, e.g. „I’m not too sure about this“ or „I’ll have to think about that”. Ask them some contextual questions to find out what exactly the problem is.
The principle “hard on facts, soft on people” also applies whenever there is a clash of opinions. Stay calm and matter-of-fact during discussions with US-Americans, and maintain a pleasant atmosphere at all times.
In general, conflicts and problems are dealt with in a positive manner. US-Americans view them as challenges and a solution is the desired outcome. While people from other cultures might talk about severe problems, US-Americans will acknowledge only ”a couple of issues” or “a slight concern“ – nothing more. This is because they see the big picture and don’t focus on single hurdles along the way.
In conversations with US-American business partners try to talk about challenges that you will overcome together eventually rather than big problems. Even more important, don’t look for blame or the one who is guilty when facing a problem. Try to stay focused on the best solutions.
US-Americans clearly show enthusiasm even for the smallest of things. Therefore, when communicating with US-Americans you should consider a different grading of the words you use: “Good” for example doesn’t mean anything more than mediocrity. If you think something is good, then you should say at least something like „That’s great!“ Should you think something is even better than that, use stronger expressions. Talk about “brilliant ideas“, “a fabulous outcome“, “outstanding teamwork”, “an excellent plan” or „fantastic results“. Should you get the feeling that you are exaggerating then this might be just right for US-Americans.
On the other hand, being too honest can easily be seen as very rude and impolite. So before you say what you really think of something or even criticize a vision of your US-American business partner because you discovered some weaknesses in his project plan, it is better to mention lots of positive things first. Only then you might carefully raise your concerns. Your conclusion, however, should always sound very optimistic!
When criticizing others you should once more remember the US-American principle “hard on facts, soft on people”. Under no circumstances you should criticize someone in front of others. In the US, criticism can be expressed only in private and in a very friendly manner. Try to remain calm and matter-of-fact. Suggest some ideas for improvement only and praise everything else the person has done well.
Listen carefully, should your US-American partner criticize something, because his criticism might be hidden behind very polite words. Due to the friendly intonation of US-Americans talking to you it can easily happen that you simply fail to hear their actual criticism.